SC adjourns Umar Khalid bail matter a ‘final’ time, says don’t blame court for delay when counsel seek adjournments

Since last April, when activist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid filed his bail application before the Supreme Court, not a single substantive hearing has been accorded to him. 

TODAY, a Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Bela M. Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal granted a final adjournment to the bail matter of Umar Khalid to January 24, 2024.

When the matter came up before the court today, both parties sought an adjournment. The court, unwilling to adjourn the matter any further, listed it to be heard on January 17.

However, senior advocate Kapil Sibal told the court that he is going to be engaged in a Constitution Bench matter on that day and the court should postpone the hearing by another week.

He said: “He [Khalid] is in jail. What difference would it make [if the hearing is postponed to another week]? I am [engaged] in a Constitution Bench hearing.”

To this, Justice Mithal added that an impression should not be created that the court is unwilling to hear the matter when the adjournment is actually sought by counsels.


On February 23, 2020, communal violence broke out against the backdrop of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 and the proposed National Register for Citizens protests in northeastern Delhi between supporters of CAA and those protesting against it.

Khalid, an activist and former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, is accused of being one of the “masterminds” of the conspiracy to instigate violence and terrorism-related activities during these riots.

He was arrested on September 13, 2020 for various offences under the anti-terrorist legislation Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA).

Charges against Khalid

According to the chargesheet filed by the Delhi police, Khalid delivered an inflammatory speech in Amravati, Maharashtra, a week before riots broke out in Delhi.

Two first information reports (FIRs) were filed against Khalid.

In one of the FIRs (FIR no. 59/2020), charges under Sections 147 (punishment for rioting) and 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly is guilty of the offence committed in prosecution of common object) and 302 ( punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with charges under Sections 13 (punishment for unlawful activities), 16 (punishment for terrorist act) and 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of the UAPA have been framed against him and 17 others.

Charges under the Arms Act, 1959 for the use of arms during riots have also been framed against him.

Additional charges under Sections 124A (sedition) and 153A (promotion of enmity between groups on the ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, etc.) of the IPC were subsequently added by the Delhi police in 2021.

In another FIR (FIR no. 101), Khalid, along with others, has been accused of vandalism and arson in northeastern Delhi’s Khajuri Khas. This FIR was registered on the grounds that he was part of a large crowd at Khajuri Khas that was pelting stones at the people nearby including the police and setting nearby vehicles on fire.

While he was granted bail in the second FIR, he continues to be denied bail in the first FIR.

Timeline of Khalid’s bail application

On October 18, 2022, the Delhi High Court division Bench of Justices Siddharth Mridul and Rajnish Bhatnagar found the allegations against Khalid prima facie true.

As per Section 43D(5) of the UAPA, bail cannot be granted if prima facie evidence suggests commission of an offence under the statute.

Before the court finally heard his application, it put off the hearing on the grounds that the Supreme Court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the sedition law.

Khalid was granted interim bail on December 12, 2022 for a week to attend his sister’s marriage. The bail conditions included that he would not be in touch with any of the witnesses in the case and he would daily video call the investigating officer among others.

Three other co-accused persons, student activists Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, were granted bail by the Delhi High Court Bench comprising Justice Mridul in June 2021.

While granting them bail, the court remarked that in its “anxiety to suppress dissent, the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity’”.

No substantive hearing before Supreme Court

Khalid filed a special leave petition against the Delhi High Court’s Order before the Supreme Court on April 6, 2023.

On May 18, 2023, the division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli issued notice to the Delhi police represented by Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, returnable in six weeks.

On July 12, 2023, when the matter came for hearing before a Bench comprising Justices Bopanna and M.M. Sundresh, Delhi police sought more time to file counter-affidavits.

Sibal objected to the counter-affidavits. He said: “In a bail matter, what counter is to be filed? The man [has been] inside for two years and 10 months.”

The court agreed to adjourn the matter to July 24, stating: “Bail application may take one–two minutes.”

When the matter came up before Justices Bopanna and Bela M. Trivedi on July 24, 2023, Sibal circulated a letter of adjournment and the matter was adjourned by one week.

The matter was then listed on August 9, 2023 before Justices Bopanna and Prashant Kumar Mishra. However, Justice Mishra recused without any reason.

On August 18, 2023, the matter came up before another Bench. It was adjourned as it had been listed on a miscellaneous day.

The matter came up again on September 5, 2023, before Justices Trivedi and Dipankar Datta. The court postponed it to next week because Khalid’s advocate Kapil Sibal was unavailable.

The court gave the last opportunity to hear the matter on September 12, 2023. When the matter came up before a Bench comprising Justices Bose and Trivedi, they said that they would examine the bail application on documentary evidence.

The matter was listed for hearing on October 11, 2023. It came up next day before the Bench of Justices Trivedi and Datta. The court stated that due to paucity of time, it would not be able to hear the matter.

To this, Sibal stated: “I can demonstrate in twenty minutes that there is no case at all.”

The matter was listed for November 1, 2023.

Meanwhile, on October 20, 2023, another petition (Umar Khalid versus Union of India & Anr.) filed by Khalid challenging the constitutionality of several provisions of the UAPA came up before Justices Bose and Trivedi. They tagged it with the bail petition.

This matter came up again on October 31, 2023. Khalid’s petition was tagged with other petitions relating to Tripura violence. The counsels for the other petitions sought to de-couple Khalid’s petition from the rest of the batch. However, the court said its going to hear all the petitions together.

Khalid’s bail matter came up before a Bench of Justices Trivedi and Satish Chandra Sharma on November 29, 2023. On a joint request of Sibal and the Delhi police, the court listed the matter for further hearing on January 10, 2024.

The Leaflet